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NICHOLAS OGUGE: Protecting East Africa’s natural capital: The cost of inaction

Nickolas Oguge, Ph.D. is Chief of Party for USAID’s Economics of Natural Capital in East Africa project (PHOTO /Courtesy)

Nature underpins every aspect of economic and human well-being. That’s why recent moves by the East African Community (EAC) and the six partner states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) to counteract environmental threats to the region are so encouraging.

Their joint effort is in response to a landmark study of natural capital in four iconic transboundary landscapes––Northern Savannas, Albertine Rift Forests, Great East African Plans, and Rweru-Mugesera-Akagera Wetlands. The study found that natural capital in these landscapes provides US$11.3 billion in value annually, serving not only the 33 million people in surrounding communities, but also providing benefits to the region and the globe.

What is clear: in these landscapes, and in East Africa as a whole, we are losing natural capital at an alarming rate due to land use changes and resource over extraction. If we do not do two things – act now and act together across nations – the negative effects will overwhelm not only individuals but communities, businesses, and states in the coming years.

Failing to protect Uganda’s natural capital will be costly. The study looked ahead to 2050 and projected the increase in costs that will accompany the decrease in nature-based services if we fail to halt wildlife and habitat degradation. In the Northern Savannas, one of the more worrisome threats is the projected increase in livestock numbers (up to 224 percent), which will require more land to be converted to pasture and cause greater habitat fragmentation. Land conversion for subsistence agriculture is also on the rise with cropland having expanded 5.39 hectares per year from 2015 to 2018. Climate change will only exacerbate these threats, disrupting social and economic well-being.

The Albertine Rift is projected to lose an additional 15 percent of its forest cover. In addition to a loss of vital resources, this will greatly increase the risk of soil erosion and resulting pollution (with up to 6.5 million tons of sediments and 179,000 tons of phosphorous entering rivers and waterbodies annually by 2050) – compromising the health and livelihoods of 12 million people in the western rift valley basins. On the positive side, the study projected a US$4.2 million increase in tourism revenue for Uganda if gorilla conservation is sustainably managed.

Transboundary collaboration is key. Uganda is an essential part of any transboundary efforts to work with neighbors and harmonize protected area management plans and conservation enterprises; otherwise, the significant losses in jobs and livelihoods will occur on both sides. Uganda could consider incentivizing the private sector to invest more in conservation enterprises that support improved livelihoods of landowners and community members for biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Such support is effective when it targets the harnessing of regenerative supply chain models in agriculture and livestock production among transboundary communities.

Nature-based solutions in the savannas would entail strengthening silvopastoral practices, eco-tourism (camps, lodges, and manyatta stays), livestock (beef and dairy value chains), beekeeping and honey and wax production, crafts, sustainable charcoal, carbon markets, and services (electrician, plumber, mason, carpentry, and small retail shops). Uganda could also support the building of cohesive communities in the northern and north-eastern part of the country to work with the landowners and communities across borders with South Sudan and Kenya, respectively. This will enhance landscape connectivity and peaceful coexistence in the transboundary Kidepo complex and Karamoja-Turkana ecosystems.

The government has an opportunity to work with the private sector to support enterprises that institute disaster risk reduction from climate hazards around Mount Elgon through reforestation and climate smart agriculture. This can include upscaling activities of the Livelihood Funds currently on the Kenyan side to the Ugandan side. This can also include tapping into international carbon markets that reward communities financially for storing carbon in forests.

Other effective options for Uganda include continuing its admirable work of strengthening ecological fiscal transfers, which compensate sub-national governments that effectively conserve ecosystems. The state could also consider supporting other payment for ecosystem services schemes that incentivize greater erosion control and water quality control by communities and the private sector.

Nature does not adhere to political or economic boundaries. Across states and sectors, we share a mutual dependence on the health of our transboundary forests, wetlands, savannas, and plains. That’s why we must work together to protect what we have and restore what is degraded. Download the study today.

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Nick Oguge, Ph.D. is Chief of Party for USAID’s Economics of Natural Capital in East Africa project, which aims to equip public and private sector leaders with evidence on nature’s economic value to improve decisions around conservation and sustainable development. Mr. Oguge is based in Kenya and has 37 years of experience in nature conservation and academia in East Africa, Belgium, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. You can access the study, “Protecting East Africa’s Natural Capital: The Cost of Inaction” at https://www.climatelinks.org/resources/cost-of-inaction. Contact: [email protected]

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